I’m sure you’ve heard the question: Is the the glass half full or half empty? The response you give might indicate if you are an optimist or pessimist in terms of the way you view life and the circumstances you encounter. I always answered in the affirmative that it was half full, thus claiming my status as ‘eternal optimist.’ Then, it occurred to me that (as is illustrated above) the glass really IS always full of something, whether liquid or air. I changed my designation to ‘opti-mystic'; as I define it “someone who sees the world through the eyes of possibility.” In my life, as in yours, ‘stuff’ happens. As I gaze back over my shoulder, I recognize losses- maternal grandmother at age 4, paternal grandmother at age 14, friends who have died throughout my adulthood, my husband when I was 40, my parents in 2008 and 2010, my home in Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and along with it, a portion of our business, an ectopic pregnancy that same year.
Last week, I was interviewed for a podcast and the host commented that I had had a difficult life (or words to that effect) since she knew my history as I had just expressed it. I was surprised at that description, since I had never thought of my life as difficult at all. If anything, I have (with a few petulant, pity party moments) seen my life as being charmed in many ways. Loving, supportive large extended family, intact parental marriage, no abuse, no addiction, no major trauma, no devastating events. Even when my dad was laid off from a few jobs, he always managage to find something to tide him over until he was called back to work, in addition to my mother’s salary. We always had a “roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs,” as our parents reassured us that we would. Even though I was diagnosed with asthma at age 5 that necessitated medical appointments, treatments and the occasional ER visit, I was active and wouldn’t let it slow me down…no big surprise there, if you know me. If anything, I used it as a catalyst to extend myself further than I might have otherwise.
Such it is with all of the other life events that have shown themselves to be motivators for even greater yoga-off-the-mat stretches. As a result of being widowed, I became an interfaith minister, bereavement counselor, organ donor educator for Gift of Life Donor Program (since Michael died while awaiting a liver transplant), as well as a more compassionate therapist. As a result of being a family caregiver for my husband and parents, I have been able to assist others in doing the same for their loved ones. As a result of all of these things, I have been able to use them as grist for the mill with my writing and teaching. There are no wasted experiences if we can learn from them.
Last night, I was speaking with my friend Ondreah about Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem The Invitation. I came to this line and couldn’t answer yes to it: “I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.” That is one of my greatest challenges as a therapist and friend. I often muscle my way through my own pain and struggle and am less than compassionate with myself when I have felt stuck, telling myself that I need to move through it as quickly and ultimately gracefully as possible. I sometimes move more rapidly than clients would prefer. Learning to be comfortable with discomfort.
I had posted this on my Facebook page and received poignant comments. This one came from Oriah herself:
“Edie, how interesting that this is the post at the top of my newsfeed this morning. It is indeed a challenge to be with what arises when what arises feels uncomfortable or downright painful. I’m guessing that that is true for all human beings- but even more so for those of us raised in a culture where “moving on” is valued much more (and pushed for) over “being with.”
Not easy at all- and yet, what really surprises me is that when I manage to find the grace to be with pain- mine or another’s- it changes. I don’t mean it goes away (sometimes it does, of course- but there is no deal to be made that if we are with something it will instantly dissolve.) In part it changes because everything is always changing and. . . . truthfully, my own experience is that when I am with something I soften to it- and softening (versus resisting, clenching against or around) almost always eases things a little.
For me, the bottom line is practise- I use meditation, prayer, yoga and writing to be with whatever arises- and when I practise with the small stuff regularly, I have a much better chance of being with something- if only for one full breath- when the harder stuff comes along. And, of course, some days are better than others. Thanks for sharing this and stirring the mulling.”
No one ever said that what is in the glass will always be desirable or pleasant, but sometimes even the most yukky tasting stuff is just the medicine we need to heal whatever might ail us AND you can always dump the contents out and refill the glass.